A Little Piece of Eritrea Near City Hall
A week ago, we had a brief post about the start of the Street Vendor Project’s new interview series in which they’ll profile various street vendors around the city. The inaugural interview happened to profile a gentleman by the name of Tesfalum Kiflu who hails from Eritrea and happens to be cooking out of a truck fairly close to City Hall. Reading his words, I couldn’t help but focus in on two in particular: Eritrean stew. I am all about trying new things and eating unusual foods. Stew may be common enough, but it’s the modifier here that caught my attention. Eritrean. I’d be willing to bet that most folks in this country don’t even know what continent Eritrea is on (it’s Africa), let alone the characteristics of the indigenous stew. So I did what any sensible, hungry, curious young man would do and made my way up Nassau St. to Ann St. to order one of Mr. Kiflu’s stews.
Finding Mr. Kiflu’s truck isn’t too hard. As he states in his interview, it’s a struggle finding a good parking spot, but he’s the only truck in site when you reach his intersection. It’s silver with a big “$5 Lunch” sign on the dashboard of the car. There are a lot of things on the menu here, ranging from the aforementioned stew to fried chicken to goat curry so there’s certainly no lack of variety. Mr. Kiflu didn’t hesitate to mention that his fish dishes are the most popular items. And as tempting as that line may be, it wasn’t what I was there for. No, I was there for some beef stew.
But despite looking at the menu and seeing actual pictures of the food, the question remained: What the hell is Eritrean beef stew? Well, here are the goods. As far as I can tell, this stew is more of a dry dish than a wet dish. That’s not to say that the meat was dry (though, to be honest, it was a little.) It’s more to say that when I think of stew, I think of big, tender chunks of meat with potatoes and carrots in a delicious brown gravy. This was not quite like that. Instead it seemed more like a a dry-rub kind of stew. There wasn’t a lot of gravy to speak of, though enough to give the accompanying rice a bit of flavor. The best way to describe it is to make a BBQ analogy. It would be like comparing dry rub Memphis-style ribs (Eritrean stew) and saucy St. Louis-style ribs (American stew). Eritrea seems to be all about the spices that are directly affecting the meat and the more traditional American stew is all about the gravy the meat comes in.
That being said, I really enjoyed my meal from Mr. Kiflu. I had to open up my definition of “stew” a bit in order to appreciate it, but that was easy enough. The spices were a new combination to me and I certainly enjoyed the introduction. As I mentioned before, the meat was a little on the dry side, but I really can’t complain too much because it was a nice departure from the daily street meat grind. It comes with a side of some stewed cabbage with what seemed to be a bit of Indian influence that I really enjoyed as well.
At the end of the day, I can’t say that Eritrean beef stew rocked my socks. It was good, but not great. Maybe I just had my heart set on a different definition of stew. I am, however, really intrigued by the fish options available at the Mr. Kiflu’s truck. I may not be returning for another taste of the stew too soon, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to see what makes his fish so popular.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I’ve never seen another truck out there serving Eritrean stew
- Lots of great spices give this dish a lot of flavor
- Beef for street meat is way more up my alley than all that chicken and lamb
- If I’m not feeling the stew, there are a ton of other options
THE — (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The beef was a little on the dry side
- When I think of stew, I want it the way Mom used to make it
- The spicing is on the intense side
$5 Lunch Truck, the corner of Ann Street and Nassau Street